MLS NEXT Pro Decision Day Preview

The race for the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs comes down to Sunday with five Eastern Conference teams fighting for the final three playoff berths. RNY FC, TFC II, and Philadelphia Union II head into Sunday’s slate currently occupying the final playoff spots, but plenty can change with NYCFC II and Inter Miami II both chasing them. Seeding remains very much open in the Western Conference with all four seeds open for the takings in Sunday night’s action.

Here is a closer look at what’s to come on Decision Day:

Sunday, September 18

Chicago Fire II vs. Inter Miami II (3 p.m. ET)

Inter Miami II claimed a needed victory on Wednesday night at TFC II and will now need more of the same at SeatGeek Stadium against Chicago Fire II to truly lock down their playoff spot.

Darren Powell’s squad outlasted TFC II 4-3 at York Lions Stadium on Wednesday night to stay one point back of fourth place Philadelphia Union II. Shaan Hundai scored a brace in Wednesday’s win while Shanyder Borgelin also continued his hot run in front of goal to score the winner. Romeo Beckham’s absence would leave a major hole in Inter Miami II’s midfield, but the talented midfielder has not yet been ruled out for Sunday’s regular-season finale.

Chicago Fire II will aim to play the spoiler role at home in its season finale, aiming to capture a fourth victory from their past six matches. Inter Miami II has already handed Chicago Fire II one defeat earlier this season, but Ludovic Talliander’s squad will be seeking revenge. A pair of 18-year-olds have impressed for Fire II this season, with Ryan Quintos and Richard Fleming both aiming for strong conclusions to their campaigns. 

Columbus Crew 2 vs. FC Cincinnati 2 (3 p.m. ET)

Columbus Crew 2 is the only Eastern Conference club that knows its plan for the near future and could rotate some players in order to save bodies for the playoffs. Laurent Courtois’ side leads the East in goals scored (52), fewest goals allowed (21), and goal differential (+31), and has several Best XI nominees. Jacen Russell-Rowe (17 goals) is fighting to lift the first-ever MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot while goalkeeper Patrick Schulte could tie RNY FC shot-stopper Caique on eight clean sheets with a shutout on Sunday.

FC Cincinnati 2 hasn’t had much go right for them this season, but a rivalry victory on Decision Day would bring a huge smile to Tyrone Marshall and his players’ faces. FCC2 outlasted Crew 2 on penalty kicks back in August, using a brace from Calvin Harris along the way. Kai Thomas, Avionne Flanagan, and Zico Bailey have been among the standout stars for FCC2 this season and will try to silence the Crew 2 attack.

New England Revolution II vs. Philadelphia Union II (3 p.m. ET)

New England Revolution II’s quest of making the playoffs fell just short in the Eastern Conference, but Clint Peay’s side could help eliminate Philadelphia Union II with a victory on Sunday. 

Revs II have been one of the better teams at home this season, posting a 7-3-1 record coming into Sunday’s clash with Union II. Revs II downed Union II by a 1-0 scoreline at Gillette Stadium back in May before falling 5-1 at Subaru Park in August. Marcos Dias and Ryan Lima have combined for nine goals and five assists and will be hoping to help play a key role in a Decision Day victory.

Union II could have the benefit of having several first team depth players with them once again this weekend as Jim Curtin’s first team nears a No. 1 seed lock up in MLS. Chris Donovan has been sensational for Marlon LeBlanc’s squad, scoring seven goals and three assists in his first professional season. Paxten Aaronson, Quinn Sullivan, and Nathan Harriel all have first-team experience with the Union, but have also contributed strongly with Union II when called upon.

Orlando City B vs. TFC II (3 p.m. ET)

TFC II’s 4-3 loss to Inter Miami II will make things a bit more nerve-wracking for Gianni Cimini’s squad this Sunday in Orlando. TFC II sits in third place on 38 points but could be eliminated from the playoff race with a defeat to Orlando City B paired with results elsewhere for Inter Miami II and/or NYCFC II. TFC II has defeated OCB once this season at BMO Field but overall has lost three of its last five matches. Paul Rothrock and Reshaun Walkes are among the in-form players for Cimini’s bunch, totaling 11 goals between them in 2022.

Orlando City B has won half of its matches at home this season and will be pushing to end its schedule on a major high note. Jack Lynn has been OCB’s Player of the Season with 15 goals and four assists to his name, but might be saved for future MLS involvement with the Lions fighting to lock down a playoff berth. Moises Tablante is a possible replacement to lead the attack with five goals and four assists in 2022.  

RNY FC vs. NYCFC II (3 p.m. ET)

An in-state rivalry between RNY FC and NYCFC II might have the biggest implications on the East playoff picture with both teams not guaranteed a berth yet. 

RNY FC sits in second place on 39 points but needs at least one point at Monroe Community College to officially seal a postseason spot. Bruno Baltazar’s squad have split their prior two regular-season meetings with NYCFC II, losing once at home and winning once on the road. Gibran Rayo has been the key attacking piece for RNY FC this season and might need to add to his 12 goals for his team to have any chance of continuing their season.

It’s pretty simple for NYCFC II..anything but a win and their season is over. Matt Pilkington’s squad rolled past FCC2 4-0 on Wednesday to stay alive in the playoff picture, but will need a win on Sunday paired with other results to earn a postseason berth. Jonathan Jimenez has nine goals to his name this season and might need to be the hero for the second-straight match to help NYCFC II get over the red line.

Houston Dynamo 2 vs. North Texas SC (7 p.m. ET)

A Texas showdown at AVEVA Stadium will feature two of the best defensive units in MLS NEXT Pro, with both aiming to claim the No. 1 seed. 

Houston Dynamo 2 has posted the best defensive record so far in the Western Conference, conceding 22 goals in 23 matches played. Kenny Bundy has moved up to the Dynamo first team, but his tactics remain well drilled into Dynamo Dos’ plans. Tyrone Maples and Mujeeb Murana have both led the Dynamo Dos backline valiantly and will be keen on slowing down one of the league’s top forwards.

Bernard Kamungo continues to lead the North Texas SC line as the Tanzanian pushes to win the Golden Boot and lead his team to the No. 1 seed. Kamungo has scored 16 goals this season and is one behind Crew 2 forward Jacen Russell-Rowe for the league lead. Kamungo has scored seven goals in his last six league appearances and will be tough for Dynamo Dos to keep quiet. Jose Mulato has also contributed nine goals this season and could be called on to help if Kamungo is held in check.

MNUFC2 vs. Earthquakes II (7 p.m. ET)

Fifth place is on the line in Sunday’s finale between MNUFC2 and Earthquakes II at Allianz Field.

Earthquakes II are unbeaten in their last three matches, scoring two goals or more in each of those fixtures. Rudi Castro and Maximilian Arfsten have been one of the top attacking duos in the Western Conference, contributing 18 goals and six assists to date. Both will be eager to help Earthquakes II eclipse 40 points in their final regular season match. 

MNUFC 2 could leapfrog Quakes II with three points on Sunday, which would be a positive ending to their season. Aziel Jackson has been MNUFC2’s MVP this season, totaling 10 goals, seven assists, and 1,853 minutes played so far. Diogo Pacheco has also been an underrated performer, adding three goals and four assists from his midfield position.

Real Monarchs vs. Colorado Rapids 2 (7 p.m. ET)

Both Real Monarchs and Colorado Rapids 2 will be aiming to end their seasons on a winning note with both clubs not destined for playoff involvement. 

Jamison Olave’s squad is unbeaten in four-straight heading into Decision Day, winning their last five home matches. Tyrone Mondi and Pedro Fonseca have been two of the leaders for Monarchs this season, totaling 13 goals this season and both logging 1,300 minutes apiece. Axel Kei has been one of the rising talents within the entire league, continuing to play a key role at only 14 years old.

Colorado Rapids 2 have won two of their last three matches, downing Houston Dynamo 2 by a 1-0 scoreline last weekend. Rapids 2 are in eighth place heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale and will be eager to end their schedule on a winning note. Yosuke Hanye leads the team in minutes played (1,868), and has also contributed four goals and three assists.

St Louis CITY2 vs. Sporting KC II (7 p.m. ET)

St Louis CITY2 has been impressive both at home and on the road this season, and John Hackworth will be pushing his players to capture a third-straight win over Sporting KC II. 

CITY2 has already defeated SKC II twice this season, earning both of their head-to-head victories on the road. Southern Illinois University will play host to Sunday’s showdown as CITY2 remains in the hunt for the West’s No. 1 seed. Akil Watts (six goals), Kyle Hiebert (2,066 minutes played), and Josh Yaro (20 starts) are among the best in MLS NEXT Pro at their defensive positions.

Sporting KC II has yet to defeat St Louis CITY2 this season, but a Decision Day win away from home could propel Benny Feilhaber’s squad over 30 points. A 5-0 victory over Colorado Rapids 2 was SKC II’s largest margin of victory this season, giving Feilhaber and his players plenty to be happy about despite not heading into the postseason. 24-year-old Bakary Bagayoko scored a brace last weekend and will be in good spirits after his Man of the Match showing against Rapids 2. 

Tacoma Defiance vs. Timbers2 (7 p.m. ET)

Wade Webber and his Tacoma Defiance players know a victory over Timbers2 on Sunday locks up the No. 1 seed for them, but anything could happen with Shannon Murray’s squad seeking a statement win to end their season. 

The Tacoma Defiance have been stellar at Starfire Sports Complex this season, winning nine of their 11 matches there so far in 2022. Not only have they been one of the league’s best collective units, but individual star power has also been on display. Marlon Vargas leads the team with 12 goals while Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez has contributed nine himself. Both are among the best at their positions and will be key on whether or not the Defiance can make a lengthy playoff run. 

Timbers2 have yet to win on the road in 2022, but a victory on Sunday in Washington could send shockwaves across the Western Conference. Shannon Murray’s squad have scored two goals or more in each of their past five matches, most recently edging Whitecaps FC II 5-4 on penalty kicks. Selmir Miscic has been Timbers2’s best attacking player this season with three goals and five assists in 22 appearances.